The Greater China Grant

Encouraging Photography In The Greater China Region

Past Winner

Yunnan Orphans, documenting the dreams of a new generation.

sean de sparengo - new territory , hk

These portraits are a document of the dreams and hopes of a generation of children from a ancient tribal cultures undergoing powerful and rapid changes. These photos are intended to capture these children that are experiencing a sense of freedom and hope that their parents and grandparents didn't.

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I direct TV Ads and in the last 5 years an I've become an Ad Photographer too.

As a child I was always hopeless at drawing but loved art nonetheless. I discovered quite late in life that I could achieve that peculiar and sometimes illusive feeling of satisfaction that every artist seeks, by making photographs instead.

I've been interested in what gives an image the X-factor, all my life I've been drawn to the works of the great portrait photographers and painters. In my own way I've been trying to distill that magic ingredient that allows an artist to translate the essence of a person into an image.

My HK Flat mate recently became involved in a small charity called Warm-Hearters. Through 100% volunteers they raise money to provide equipment for ethnically tribal orphans and very poor children in the remote, rural and mountainous areas in Yunnan province.

I saw an opportunity to help by bringing my technical and commercial experience to the task of documenting a generation of amazing children from a rapidly disappearing culture.
I took my camera and laptop along on one of the charities difficult trips with the aim of producing the most engaging portraits I could. Ultimately to create an exhibition to raise awareness and funds. 

Getting to the mountains was not easy, but after several days of traveling we arrived in Yunnan and found a wonderful local driver who owned a rather battered and bruised old “Beijing Olympics” bus, which was to be a big part of our transport for a week. We were heading into the mountains on roads that seemed to be composed of a powdery bright red dust. Roads that during the rainy season emulsify into rivers of mud that render whole towns and villages inaccessible for months at a time.
The pace of change in China is nothing short of incredible. Construction equipment is everywhere and the inevitable road side mounds of earth and the thick industrial clouds we drove through were dense reminders of a landscape undergoing a remarkable transformation. An endless procession of tall metal cranes rose up from the horizon no matter how far we seemed to drive. However it was only by traveling to the heights of Yunnan that the region gave up its secrets and it became apparent that many pockets of cultural isolation still existed. Small village schools are often located near the tops of mountains so as to stay safe during the floods and it was the children at these schools and orphanages that we aimed to photograph.
 
This meant that each day we wound our way up steep and stoney tracks to breath-shortening altitudes. These hill-top communities often experience brutally extreme temperature changes ranging from 37ºC plus at midday and dropping to a numbingly cold -10ºC at night.
 
Many of the children in this book live in their schools sparse dormitories during the week. At the weekends, after long days of study, they must walk up to four hours on muddy hillside paths to reach a relatives farm or their parents isolated homes. The journey is often dark, wet and cold.

I asked each child I photographed that age-old question “What would you like to be when you grow up?” and although many answered in a seemingly well rehearsed way, some children gave less guarded, beautiful and surprising answers.

One little boy quietly but confidently declared “I want to be the Moon”.

His friends laughed but when asked why he replied, “When I walk home I like it when the Moon is full and bright because I can see where I’m going. I’d like to be the Moon so my friends can see too.”

I would love to use the proceeds of this Grant to...

A. Publish a beautiful book containing the portraits of these amazing children alongside their written hopes (All of the proceeds from this book would go back to them via the charity)

B. This is the more selfish part of the request, I feel I'm improving as a portrait Photographer by stepping outside of the relative safety of Advertising Photography. I'd like to improve my craft and make more meaningful work by continuing this project.

Included are some behind the scenes shots of the first and only trip I've taken in Yunnan and some of the finished portraits.

The smiling and unsure looks as these children encountered their first foreigners will be some of the last such expressions that anyone will see in this vast country.
Change is happening around these isolated mountain villages for better or for worse and these images have been crafted to raise the money needed to make sure that these children don't get left behind.



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